Frequent trains link all five villages with each other (Trenitalia-run trains as well as a train service run by the park authority), La Spezia and other places towards Genova (only Trenitalia-run). You can purchase an all day train pass in La Spezia that also allows you to hike the Cinque Terre trails. The cost of the pass is 12 Euros (as of June 2013).
A more expensive, but very scenic option, are the boats that run up and down this part of the coast.
Walking is very popular, especially on the main coastal paths, which are subject to park entrance fees. It’s worth exploring some of the higher paths to Volastra (above Manarola), Monte Negro (above Riomaggiore) or paths that begin outside of the park such as the trail between Levanto and Monterosso.
Traveling by car is by far the worst way to explore the Cinque Terre, there is little parking and what there is lies well outside the villages. To get from one village to the next involves driving all the way up to the high road and back down again. Better to leave the car and use the train.
In order to walk along the trails between the villages, one must purchase a pass (5 euros), which is available at the information offices near the train stations at any of the five villages, as well as the stations at Levanto and La Spezia. You can pay a small supplement (an extra €3) for the pass and get unlimited travel between the villages, Levanto, and La Spezia on regional trains for the duration of the pass.
Warning: Currently (June 2013) only one segment of the coastal path is open between Vernazza and Corniglia. The rest of the paths are officially closed because of the risk of landslides. In some of the towns you may enter the path at your own risk (without having to pay the usual fee). In other places the entrance to the path is blocked completely by high fences and/or a guard.
The main attraction of the Cinque Terre is the landscape. Mediterranean herbs and trees grow spontaneously from the top of the hills down to the water level. Well embedded in this magnificent natural scenery, one can admire the intense human activity of the ancestors, when the wine terraces were built. An enormous (and somehow crazy) work of transportation, carrying all the heavy stones on men’s shoulders and women’s heads. A work through the centuries, in fact it’s estimated to have taken about 200 years to build the entire stone-wall network. Its total length has been calculated to be at least equal to the Great Wall of China.
Tourists can enjoy the scenery described above, walk through the towns (or between them) or hiking on the paths and enjoying the local atmosphere.
Depending on the time of the year there are some specific things to see:
- The lighted Nativity in Manarola (Dec. 8th till late Jan.). The world’s biggest Lighted nativity.
- The patron festivity of the 5 towns (all between late May and Aug.), a mix of religious ceremony and popular parties.
- The pirates attack in Vernazza (mid summer), a celebration of the succesful defence of the town from a Saracen attack occurred during the middle age.
- The harvest (early/mid Sept.) and wine making, when men’s shoulders and women’s heads are still used as they were hundreds of years ago.
- The sea storms (frequent in winter), a great show of nature’s power.
The Cinque Terre boasts some of the best coastline hiking trails in the world. Since Cinque Terre is an area prone to landslides, it’s always better to check if the hiking paths are open or closed, before leaving. You must purchase a pass if you hike the trail number 2 (blue), while no pass is required for the other trails. It is also possible to purchase a hiking and train pass in one if you wish to catch a train to the next town. Trains are frequent but it is advisable to check local time tables especially on Sunday and Public holidays as you could be waiting up to an hour for the correct train.
The trail closest to the water is marked as No. 2. The path from Riomaggiore to Manarola is called the Via Dell’Amore (or roughly “Street of the loving”). This is a paved path that is easy to walk for any age. Only the side starting from Manarola is wheelchair accessible. The Riomaggiore side starts with 2 flights of stairs. Along the way, passers-by have the opportunity to write their names on the walls of a gallery. Visitors should not scratch their names on trees or cactuses as this is damaging to the plants. Mid-way down the path, you will come across ‘The Lover’s Lock’ which is a place to seal your eternal love. This custom follows the italian fad that was started by the film Tre Metri Sopra il Cielo. At this point there is a ‘love seat’ in the shape of a male and female locked in a kiss, where many couples pose.
There are two hiking paths from from Manarola to Corniglia. The first one is closest to the water and easy. It takes approximately 30 minutes. The path is not paved. To reach Corniglia town center there is an up hill hike and a large zig zag shaped staircase with 385 steps which can be quite a mission in the midday sun. In 2010-2011 there was a big landslide on this path so the park closed it for several months. Check with park offices if the trail is open. The second hiking path is through the mountains. If you reach Cinqueterre through Manarola, you can take a bus in the early morning to Corniglia and then do the other hiking paths on foot.
The trail from Corniglia to Vernazza is longer and the terrain is uneven. The hike takes approximately 2 hours.
The trail from Vernazza to Monterosso is the steepest (you need a reasonably good level of fitness – there is over 250m of climbing over very uneven rocks, totalling approx. 750 ‘steps’ – not easy for most people), winding through olive orchards and vineyards and offering dramatic ocean views. The paths are narrow, with a very real danger of falling 12 to 15 feet if you lose your footing. If you attempt this hike, take some water, and be prepared to build up a very decent sweat.
The walk on the No. 2 trail between all the villages takes the better part of a day. For those that would rather not walk (or not walk the entire trail), a boat ferry service runs seasonally to all five villages, plus Lerici. The price is reasonable, and gives a nice view of the villages from the water. The regional train that connect all the villages is also a quick way to hop among towns.
If you are a more experienced hiker, take advantage of other trails that go higher up the mountain. These trails are well maintained, off the beaten path, and usually have fewer tourists. You can obtain detailed maps from any of the park offices. The paths number 7, 7/a and 6/d are particularly scenic and passing through nice vineyards and terraces.
In June, July, August, it is advised that you attempt the walk as early as possible to avoid the unforgiving midday sun. Sneakers or suitable walking shoes are essential.
Monterosso – Vernazza: 90 minutes. OPEN (Trail No. 2) as of July 2014
- Narrow trail, steep at times. Beautiful views of Vernazza. This trail (No. 2) requires a hiking permit, which you can pick up at the trail head on either side for €7.50.
Vernazza – Corniglia: 90 minutes. OPEN (Trail No. 2) as of July 2014
- Amazing views of Vernazza; greenest trail. In ‘Prevo’(tiny hamlet of Vernazza) at 2 km from Corniglia and 2 km from Vernazza, you are in the most high and most impressive spot of Sentiero Azzurro at 208 meters above sea level. This trail (No. 2) requires a hiking permit, which you can pick up at the trail head on either side for €7.50.
Corniglia – Manarola: 45 minutes. CLOSED (Trail No. 2) as of July 2014 – Trail No. 6 is OPEN as of Aug 2014
- Scenic low trail past a beach.
- Trail No. 6 is OPEN! The hike is up into the the vineyard hills and takes approximately 2.5-hours. You do not need to purchase a permit for this trail.
Manarola – also has its own beautiful vineyard walk.
Manarola – Riomaggiore: 20 minutes. CLOSED as of July 2014 – Trail No. 6 is OPEN as of Aug 2014
- The famous Via dell’Amore (translation ‘lovers lane’), paved flat trail cut into the cliff.
- Trail No. 6 is OPEN! This hike is steep on both sides but should only take you about 30-45 minutes to complete. You do not need to purchase a permit for this trail.
It is possible to swim in the sea at each of the villages. Almost every year the Cinque Terre Marine Reserve vies for the top of the Blue Flag Beach list of Italy. There are two large sandy beaches at Monterosso, a small sandy beach at the harbor of Vernazza, and pebble beaches near Riomaggiore and Corniglia. Off the beaten path there are pebble beaches in Framura and Bonasola just 20 minutes away on the train. You can swim off rocks at the small harbors at Manarola (which has a very nice and deep swimming hole) and Riomaggiore. Corniglia’s small harbor is reached by a long staircase leading down to the sea. It is probably the quietest swimming spot of all the five lands because of this.
During summer, “5 Terre Swimming” (www.5terreswimming.it) organizes swimming competitions in Open Water and non-competitive events, with the purpose of promoting the sport activity in the water of the natural park of 5 Terre.